IFJ Calls for Action as Free Journalism “Faces Extinction” in Eritrea

©Kalle AhlsénThe International Federation of Journalists today condemned the Eritrean government’s “dictatorial” approach to press freedom, warning that free and independent journalism “faces extinction” in the country.

“The international community must intervene to stop the rot,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Independent journalism faces extinction in Eritrea and the outside world must act now.”

The concern of the IFJ and other press freedom groups over the Eritrea crisis intensified at the end of last month when the last remaining foreign correspondent was expelled from the country. Jonah Fisher, who worked in Eritrea for 18 months as correspondent for the BBC and Reuters, said the authorities gave him no explanation, but his expulsion followed a period of ”increasing difficulties."

The IFJ is pressing the European Union to raise concerns over human rights and free expression and the continued imprisonment of at least 13 journalists. There are several EU projects in Eritrea financed by the European Development Fund (EDF) worth 156 million euros for the 2002-2007 period. A core part of this agreement is that the Eritrean government must respect human rights in order to receive this assistance.

“We welcome recent statements by EU representatives over the need to improve human rights in Eritrea,” said White. “But time is running out. We need some action to hold the Eritrean authorities’ accountable for their utter failure to respect the full terms of their acceptance of this financial support.”

The IFJ’s intervention is strongly backed by its Swedish affiliate the Swedish Journalists Federation who are campaigning vigorously for the release of Dawit Isaac, a journalist and Swedish citizen, who along with 12 other independent journalists have been detained incommunicado, without charge or trial, since September 2001 when the government shut down independent newspapers. No charges are known to have been filed against any of them.

“Eritrea has the worst record in Africa when it comes to attacks on press freedom and journalists rights,” said Arne Konig, Vice President of the Swedish Journalists’ Federation. “Today is the 40th birthday of our colleague Isaac who has been in jail for three years without trial already. We need to mark his anniversary with new efforts to set him free.”

Since its independence from Ethiopia in 1991, Eritrean President Afwerki has purposively shelved the country's constitution, delayed presidential elections, closed down independent media and jailed hundreds of journalists and other members of civil society.

“Eritrea is the victim of a systematic repression and censorship of all independent media,” said White. “There is no privately-owned press, the foreign press have been kicked out, and local journalists are harassed, detained without trial and subject to intolerable intimidation. This shameful situation cannot be ignored any longer.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries